Tag Archives: huffington post

Whelan: Will HuffPo ruin AOL’s health site?

In the wake of AOL’s acquisition of the Huffington Post, Forbes.com’s David Whelan has taken the time to ask the $315 million health journalism question: What will happen to AOL’s decent health offerings when what he calls HuffPo’s trademark “medical freak show” leap on board?

As fellow Rahul Parikh fans will no doubt be aware, Ariana Huffington’s Post has long been a haven for those who share her non-evidence-based medical beliefs, but to recap, here’s Whelan’s biting comparison of the two sites:

AOL Health is a helpful site with tools for losing weight, Q&A sessions with Harvard Med professors, and a Mayo Clinic-esque databank of ailments and symptoms. It has its share of sensational headlines, overplaying stories on sex and diets. But that’s only a misdemeanor in the world of health journalism.

What’s always been closer to a journalistic felony is the way that the Huffington Post’s health coverage promotes pseudoscience, conspiracy theories and dubious remedies. Rahul Parikh, a pediatrician in the Bay Area who writes for Salon, has done some the best work I’ve seen exposing the looniness. Some examples from his survey: one blogger thinks swine flu should be treated with enemas, another promotes “distance healing”, and comedian Jim Carrey spreads the harmful theory that vaccines cause autism.

Since posting, Whelan received a pointed reply from HuffPo’s senior health editor, who says the site’s days on the fringe are now in the rear-view mirror:

UPDATE: The Huffington Post’s Senior Health Editor, Alana B. Elias Kornfeld, called to say that health articles are vetted by a Medical Review Board: “This has been true since HuffPost Health launched in Fall 2010 as a vertical separate from HuffPost Living where wellness coverage appeared in the past. As such, the acupuncturist referenced in Mr. Parikh’s 2009 Salon article is not the Health editor. Myself and Associate Health Editor, Meghan Neal, are both trained journalists.”

Matthew Herper, also of Forbes, follows up by pointing out that nothing seems to have changed. Today the Post has published a piece written by David Kirby that asserts people believe in a link between autism and vaccines for a reason and thus the debate won’t go away. Part of Kirby’s argument:

I know that many people will say the vaccine issue has been thoroughly investigated and debunked. I honestly wish that were the case, but it simply is not true. All of the “vaccine-autism” studies you hear about investigated just one childhood vaccine out of 14 (MMR), or one vaccine ingredient out of dozens (thimerosal). That is like announcing that air pollution does not cause lung cancer because you looked at carbon monoxide, alone, and hydrogen sulfide, alone, and found no link.

All of the pieces mentioned here are rich with links to other interesting reading about the subject so we encourage readers to explore the subject.

CPI to absorb Huffington Post Fund, health focus to continue

The New York Times‘ Tanzina Vega reports that two major news nonprofits, both regulars on this blog, are joining forces to create a heavyweight investigative unit with deep roots in the nation’s capital. The Center for Public Integrity, who we praised most recently for the wide-ranging asbestos investigation they did with the BBC, will absorb the Huffington Post Investigative Fund, which was founded last year. The HuffPo crew will bring with them $2 million in grant money, Vega reported.

Huffington Post Investigative Fund reporters Fred Schulte and Emma Schwartz have come up often in this space, thanks to their dogged coverage of health information technology and the ARRA. Editor Keith Epstein told AHCJ, via e-mail, that the combined organization will build on their efforts.

We’re going to have a strong emphasis on health reporting generally, and we’re excited that part of that emphasis will be continued and even enhanced examinations of the nation’s deployment of stimulus-fueled health information technology.

Health IT moves forward, regulation doesn’t

Fred Schulte and Emma Schwartz report that while the Obama administration plans to create a digital medical file for every American by 2014, “the administration has established no national mandatory monitoring procedure for the new devices and software. That no process exists to report and track errors, pinpoint their causes and prevent them from recurring is largely the result of two decades of resistance by the technology industry, a review of government records and interviews by the Huffington Post Investigative Fund shows.”

Major HIT malfunctions continue – they focus on one of 10 hospitals in the Trinity Health System in the upper Midwest – and nobody has a grip on their location or frequency. Meanwhile, the administration has issued regulations for HIT implementation that make no mention of safety and quality standards, standards the FDA has been considering for some time.

Beacon programs offer hope for health IT

Emma Schwartz and Fred Schulte, the HIT specialists at the Huffington Post Investigative Fund, examine the 15 “beacon” programs involved in a $220 million federal effort designed to demonstrate how health tech can bring better treatment at a lower cost. Twelve of the programs will focus, at least in part, on diabetes in order to explore how much of an impact HIT can have on chronic (and under-treated) diseases.

For more on each program, visit this interactive map.

The grants also offer an early test of a $27 billion gamble by the Obama administration that medical records technology can achieve specific cost reductions and health improvements, critical tenets of health reform.

Hopes are high. In Mississippi, the alliance aims to reduce blood sugar levels in at least one of four patients with diabetes, increase the numbers of people who take their medications as directed and cut the cost of their care by 10 percent – all within the next three years. In Tulsa, Okla., which has the nation’s highest rate of heart disease, another group is hoping that its $12 million grant will reduce preventable hospital visits by 10 percent while saving patients and taxpayers $11 million a year.

Schwartz and Schulte write hopefully of the potential shown by the beacon programs, but temper it with cautionary tales from Florida and various auditor’s offices.

Schulte, Schwartz look for help investigating HIT

Regular readers know that we always keep an eye out for updates from Fred Schulte and Emma Schwartz, the duo from the Huffington Post Investigative fund that refuses to let the Obama administration’s push for health information technology proceed without scrutiny. This time, they’re following up on past work with stories on HIT-related errors and the FDA’s role (or lack thereof) in the policing of HIT.

Photo by brianjmatis via Flickr.

Their most interesting update, however, concerns their effort to get HIT-related “adverse events” data from the FDA. Schwartz describes the difficulties they’ve run into, how they’ve overcome them, and how readers can help them put the whole puzzle together. It’s an interesting strategy, and an equally interesting primer on the FDA’s tricky “Manufacturer and User Facility Device Experience,” or MAUDE, database. You can also find their own version of the data here, courtesy of Amanda Zamora.

Attending Health Journalism 2010?

Schulte will be speaking about “Tracking health-related stimulus money” during a panel at 4:15 p.m. on Friday. His co-panelists will be ProPublica reporter Michael Grabell and Phil Galewitz, a Kaiser Health News reporter and AHCJ board member.

On Sunday morning, don’t miss the panel “Personal electronic medical records: What will consumers need to know?” featuring:

  • Steve Gray, partner, Affiliated Computer Services Healthcare Solutions
  • Bala Hota, M.D., M.P.H., chief medical information officer, Cook County Health and Hospital System
  • Thomas Layden, M.D., chief, Department of Internal Medicine; professor of medicine, University of Illinois at Chicago
  • Moderator: Prerna Mona Khanna, M.D., M.P.H.. visiting clinical associate professor, University of Illinois College of Medicine